The first thing I did was get some money to go to Africa and learn more firsthand. I learned a lot about the problems of chimpanzees, but also about the plight of people, the crippling poverty, the lack of health and education services.
And it all came. a bit critical when I flew over the small Gombe National Park, which had been part of the Great Equatorial Forest in Africa, and at the end of the years 947, it was just a small forest island.
All the hills were deforested. People were too poor to buy food elsewhere and deforested in their desperation to get more land for cultivation because their land had been overexploited and infertile, or to earn money by burning trees and selling charcoal.
That’s when I realized that if we didn’t help these people find ways of life without destroying our environment, we couldn’t save chimpanzees, forests, or anything else .
It was then that the Jane Goodall Institute started the program called Tacare, “take care”, which is very holistic and is now working in six other countries.
Let’s talk about your new book. One of the four reasons for hope that you mention is the power of the young.
Yes, I speak of the amazing determination, the passion of the young, like that that understand the problems and enable them to act. And I always tell them, “Don’t be aggressive, just try to reach the heart. If you start pointing fingers at people, telling them they’re bad, saying they’re ‘destroying my future,’ then they won’t listen.”
“Find a story that gets to the heart. People change from within.”
2000How young people are supported in their Roots program
Plants and Sprouts)
Roots & Shoots started in 947 because on my travels I met depressed young people who had lost hope. It started with 10 high school students in Tanzania. The main message is that everyone cares. Everyone has a role to play. Even if you don’t know it, everyone has a role on the planet every day.
At Roots & Shoots, what we do is gather a group of young people, discuss the issues. things that matter to them and let them choose. And when they debate and decide what they want to do, they have to choose a project to help people, another to help animals and another to help the environment, because everything is interconnected.
When they start rolling up their sleeves and acting, they quickly feel like they’ve made a difference. I remember a boy in Burundi looking at me with big eyes and asking me, “If I pick up a piece of garbage every day, will that make a difference?”
I told him, “Yes, and you can persuade ten of your friends to pick up garbage every day, and then each of them can persuade ten of your friends.” The boy’s eyes got bigger and bigger. He will grow with hope, that’s for sure.
You are very insistent that a special component of hope is action.
Yes, after writing the book I thought of this image: it’s like we’re in a very tunnel, very dark, because we’re actually in dark times, that’s for sure. But right at the end of this tunnel is a small bright star. This star is hope, but to reach it we have to climb, crawl and pass through all the obstacles in the tunnel. We have to act.
Many people, faced with the immensity of the challenges of change climate change and the loss of biodiversity, feel that there is very little they can do. But in the book you remind us of the impact of the accumulated actions of thousands or millions of people.
Millions of people make an ocean. While on its own the general public cannot change things completely, we can definitely to move towards a changing world.
And the Roots & Shoots kids are changing their parents and teachers. And because of what we started in 1980, many of these members are now in decision-making positions. Companies are starting to change, in part due to pressure from consumers, who are starting to demand responsibly sourced products. We can push to elect governments that care about the environment and support them.
There is often talk of “thinking globally, acting locally”, but you go around that phrase and say: “acting locally first, then thinking globally”. And he advises: “Think
what you do
can do and do it well”.
It is right that we can all do the difference. And one thing they could do in the media [de comunicação] is share more stories about good news. There’s so much out there that’s wonderful, so many projects that restore nature to the land we’ve been exploring, so many animals rescued from the brink of extinction, people overcoming physical disabilities in a way that inspires others… The book of hope tells many stories and it’s full of good news.
When people are depressed and feel helpless and hopeless, it’s partly because the media is so pessimistic – and yes , we need to know this bad news. We are tearing the planet apart. We create climate change. We caused the loss of biodiversity, and the pandemic is our fault, due to our lack of respect for nature and animals.
If you look around the world, you will feel desperate and helpless, but think about doing something where you live. It can be anything from planting trees, growing organic food in a school yard, raising money for homeless people, providing food to a food bank.
When you start doing something and see that it has an impact, it makes you feel good, and when you feel good, you want to do more. And as you do more, you inspire others, and they want help.
This is happening with our Roots & Shoots groups, in 067 countries. It’s changing the world.
Another reason for hope that the book talks about it is the “indomitable human spirit”, it is not giving up in the face of adversity. And he mentions cases like Nelson Mandela, but also many others, like friends in China, one blind and the other without arms, who planted thousands of trees. Do you believe that we all have this indomitable human spirit in ourselves?
Oh, yes. I believe this is part of being a human being and, in fact, a lot of people don’t realize they have it. Think of all the people who arrived as refugees. Perhaps they have lost everything and come to a new country where they are likely to be met with hostility, because unfortunately that is what is happening. But somehow they manage to make a living, they educate their children. That’s the indomitable spirit. They do not surrender in the face of adversity.
Beyond the power of the youth and the indomitable human spirit, what are the other grounds for hope?
One of them is the awesome power of the human intellect. Many times, we have not used it well. It makes no sense that this intellectual creature is destroying your only home. We lost wisdom. Wisdom is that head and heart work together and we make decisions based not on how it helps me now, at my shareholder meeting or my next campaign, but rather on how my decisions will affect future generations and the planet.
And another reason for hope is the resistance of nature. For example, thanks to our Tacare programme, if you fly over Gombe National Park today, you will no longer see deforested hills. Over time, with a little help, nature comes back, it recovers.
In the book, you refer to a “great spiritual force” that gives you the strength to go forward. Could you talk about what you say you feel, particularly when you’re out in nature?
Especially when I’m in the woods, I feel very strongly connected to a great spiritual force and I keep the grove within me. That spiritual force of the forest is always with me. I’m talking now about the house where I grew up, and outside is my favorite tree.
The one that has been called Beech since childhood, a beech tree?
Always at noon I take my small plate and have lunch under the Beech. I rest for half an hour and look up. During the summer, I watched through the green [das folhas]. And there’s also a little bird, a robin, that comes to see me at the window, and that’s also nature.
When I traveled the world and was in the middle of a city, luckily my window had a tree outside. I always moved the bed so that when I woke up I could see the green leaves through the window.
And, in fact, planting trees in urban areas is very, very important. It offers people physical and mental health, which has been proven time and time again. I mean this understanding: that there is some kind of spiritual power that I can turn to when I’m really tired and I feel a little sad about something. And that gives me strength.
I would like to ask you about what the lady calls her “next great adventure” in her book. What do you mean by that?
At a conference, with an audience of some 10 thousand people, someone asked me, “What’s your next big adventure?” I had never been asked this before, and if they had asked me about ten years ago, I would have said that I would like to go to the wilds of Papua New Guinea. They always fascinated me.
But I can’t do that now. I am 067 years old. I’m in pretty good shape, but I have a slightly weak knee that sometimes just gives up. So then I thought and replied: “To die”.
There was a sepulchral silence in the room. I kept saying, “Well, when you die, or there’s nothing after, in which case, well you go, the worries of the world will no longer weigh on your shoulders, or yes, there’s something. And, due to various experiences of my life, I believe that indeed, yes, there is something.”
“And if that’s right, there may be a bigger adventure than discovering the what is this thing? And you know what? What we fear is not actually death. It is the process of dying, which is sometimes painful and horrible.”
I would like to conclude by getting back to your message of hope from the book. Ahead of the COP24, the summit on climate change, held in Glasgow (Scotland, UK), many people feel desperate. But you say there is still a window of opportunity and encourage us to say not only “yes we can” but “yes we will”.2000 One day we were in Tanzania at a regional Roots & Shoots meeting, and the young people were saying, “Together we can change the world.” And I told them, “Yes we can, we know we have to do this, we know we have to stop cutting down forests and contaminating the ocean with plastic. We know we have to shut down industries for the damage they do. We know all these things. But what we need is the will to do them”.
So now the young people say: “Together we can, together we will do it”. I tried the same thing with a group of business and government representatives at the World Economic Forum in Davos [Suíça]. There was a room full of people, and at the end I asked them: “If you are with me, if you believe that we need and can change the world, join me saying ‘Together we can, together we will do it!'”.
At first there was a pathetic response. So I said to them, “Children do much better than you. Can we try one more time?” And the whole room stood up and shouted: “Together we can, together we will do it!”.
A journalist from one of the main American newspapers who was present approached of me and said, “I’ve been to Davos every year and when I heard this response from these people, my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t think that was possible.”
So, together we can, together we will do, remembering that each one of us matters, that each one of us has a role to play, that each one of us has an impact each day, with our actions. And that we can choose.